Grow Your Own Vegetables in a Small Backyard
Edited by Danh, VC, Broomsfly, Doug Collins and 1 other
The smell and taste of your own hand-picked vegetables from the backyard can be intoxicating. With the arrival of spring and all the warmth, sun and rain that comes with it, this is the ideal time to start and cultivate your very own backyard garden. Just imagine the beauty of those ripe red tomatoes and shiny green cucumbers you'll have come summer, adding the freshest of ingredients to your dinner time salad. If you have a small backyard, but have big dreams of incorporating a garden, no need to panic: it's still very much possible to grow your own veggies within a confined space. All you really need is some sun, some shade, some water and really good soil. Whatever your reason for starting a garden -- whether to save money on those high grocery store prices or to get your kids involved in a wholesome project -- check out our tips for how to get started on your own garden in the backyard.
Steps to Grow Your Own Vegetables in a Small Backyard
Plan it Out -Planning your garden takes just a little bit of foresight, not just in the design, but in the ideal vegetables to select based on your soil type and amount of sunlight or shade your small backyard gets. Consider which vegetables you are interested in planting, and more importantly, eating. Don't plant too much or you'll end up with too much food that may go to waste. Keep in mind that many foods, like peppers and tomatoes, will produce over and over throughout the season; however, foods like corn and carrots only produce once, then you have to replant. If you don't have a lot of space for a small 10x10-foot garden, you could just use containers for all or much of your plants right out on your deck.
Pick a Place - It doesn't matter how small your available space is, you need three crucial components to have a successful garden: sun, water and good soil. As far as sun goes, make sure your garden will receive about six to eight hours of sun a day. Plan your garden close to a water source if possible; otherwise, you will have to get out your watering can once a day in times of dry spells. Soil is a major factor as well, so make sure it's moist and chock full of organics like peat moss or compost. Row cropping -- the most common form of larger garden beds -- is ideal only if you have a large enough space. If you're really cramped, forgo the paths in between for walking and plant your veggies closer together. You'll have to do a lot of weeding by hand, so leave enough space at the edges so you can kneel and reach over as needed. Think about placing your tomatoes on the far side of the garden, along with any other tall vegetables that may need supports like pole beans.
Test the Soil - Once you've sketched out where the garden will be, check the soil quality first. You can do this by soaking it with water, letting it sit for 24 hours or so, then grabbing a handful of dirt. You'll need to add compost if the water pours out. If it forms into a ball and then crumbles to the touch, you have perfect soil. Till the area with a gardening tool to ensure it's fresh and loose, followed by a rake over the surface. Add water, then leave the bed alone for a few days.
Choose your Vegetables - Once you hit the local nursery and start picking out your plants and seeds, you'll notice that the sheer number of veggie varieties is staggering! Look for seeds that are meant for small gardens and containers -- it should advise this on the tag. Choose a few varieties of each type just in case one doesn't work out, so you'll have a backup. While some vegetables can begin in containers in the cooler months, then transported outside into the garden once the warm months hit, other veggies are better when directly sown into the garden bed, such as carrots, corn, peas and beans, thanks to their delicate root systems.
Seeding - Make small divots -- called furrows -- in the soil with your hand or gardening tool. You'll need to take a look at each seed packet to ensure you're digging deeply enough and putting the proper spacing between one and the next. Make sure your rows go in a north-south pattern to ensure adequate sunlight from both directions. You'll also need to form small holes on either side of the seed furrow -- this is where you'll put the fertilizer so that the plant roots can best get nourishment from it. Put pinches of seeds in each seed furrow, making sure you're putting equal amounts into each.
Watering -Once all the seeds have been sown and the soil is replaced on top, give the garden a fine mist with the hose. You don't want the soil to be dripping wet. If you're using a raised bed, you'll want to water it once a day or every other day because of the drainage factor. You may be able to go longer without watering with other types of gardens, aiming for about an inch of moisture a week. Once the seeds begin to sprout, thin them out if you notice overcrowding. It's best to do this when they're small rather than wait till they're big, as this can cause a disruption to the other plants. Don't let weeds compete for your vegetables' nutrients and water. Get out there every couple of days to inspect for weeds and pull them out by the root as soon as you notice them.
Harvesting - Keep an eye on your small backyard garden. Each day may bring new surprises. What wasn't ripe one day may be ready for picking the next. Don't let your vegetables overripe, such as tomatoes. Some veggies, like lettuce, will continue to grow even when you snip off some of their leaves for your nightly salad. Cucumbers can be harvested when they're only a few inches long. Green beans are ready when they're thinner than the size of a pen. Harvest your broccoli when the crown measures four inches. If you're waiting for your produce to get as big as you find it in the grocery store, you'll be waiting forever. Because home grown veggies rarely reach store-bought size, you'll want to pick them sooner rather than later. Pick your peas early to avoid them losing their sweet flavor. Avoid picking your peppers when they are green. Instead, let them ripen further to a red, orange or yellow to retain the most nutritious flavor. The same goes for hot peppers. Harvest your summer squash when they measure about five inches long. In general, don't hold back when harvesting your produce. If it looks good, it's probably just fine to pick. In many cases, the more you pick, the more it will grow and the more it will keep on producing. The bottom line is, it's possible -- and rewarding -- to grow a small garden in your backyard no matter what the size. All you need are water, sun, soil and a little love. Happy Planting!
Recent edits by: Doug Collins, Broomsfly, VC